The big gobbler stood loud and proud across the valley. It gobbled with pride, strutted with gallantry, and expressed more stubbornness than a green-broke mustang. But no matter what calls and vocalizations I threw at it, that turkey wouldn’t budge. When turkeys find terrain features they love, it can be hard to get them to leave.
Eventually, I packed up, swung wide, and set up just above the bird on a hillside bench. And that’s all it took. That turkey bowed up, went red in the face, and walked all stiff-legged into 20 yards. It finally spotted me as I eased up to take the shot. But it was much too late. At the shot the regal tom spread its wings to flap back down the hill—but landed in a skillet of butter and grease instead.
Some geographical locations and terrain features are absolute magnets for wild turkeys. There are many of these, and birds love them. Here’s what you should know.
HuntStand Features To Lean On
The multi-featured HuntStand Pro is an incredible tool for scouting for turkeys, and the grounds they call home. A few of the must-use features include marking your scouting finds (Map Editor), to using offline map versions (Offline Maps), and recording turkey sightings (Sightings). In addition, make it a habit of listing “to-dos” (Tasks), and keeping track of hunting buddies (Friend Locator/Sharing). But some of the most-important features are found in specific layers, which help you locate the turkey hunting hotspots you’re looking for.
3D mapping: This helpful layer (see screen shot above) takes topography viewing to the next level. It allows you to see in 3D on a 2D screen. This technology is ideal for all turkey hunters, and really helps you visualize the landscape in a more-effective manner. As a bonus, you can view this 3D model from many different perspectives, including from ground level to overhead.
Hybrid: Speaking of hybrid layers, those who are scouting or hunting in areas with a lot of broken (separated) pieces of public land should consider the hybrid layer. This handy feature shows detailed aerial imagery paired with Google Maps’ roadways. This can help you navigate to properties of interest.
Contour map: The Contour layer (see example above) is designed to show you an aerial view with added contour lines. It’s an aerial-topo hybrid layer option with incredible detail to quickly pinpoint things like benches and pinch points that will funnel turkey movement.
Outdoor: As mentioned, turkeys love water. This layer shows it in great detail, and helps pinpoint areas that might be attractive to local turkeys.
Property Info: Anyone who’s scouting, or hunting, should keep an eye on property boundaries. This is the HuntStand layer for that. It offers information on where the lines are, who owns the land, contact information, and more.
Tree Cover: Those who are looking at land from a large-scale view need to tap into the Tree Cover layer. The TerrapPulse tree cover layer uses NASA satellite imagery, which helps differentiate between trees and other types of vegetation.
Terrain map: Those who want a view of only the topography, but no vegetation representation, will like the Terrain layer. This takes topo lines to the next level, and displays a great overhead view of the terrain.
Weather: Lastly, those who hunt turkeys understand just how pivotal the weather can be. Good weather can get turkeys fired up. Bad weather can shut them down. The latter can also be dangerous to hunt in. This feature helps keep track of all of that.
Terrain & Topography: Pivotal Factors
Experienced turkey hunters understand the importance of terrain and topography. These things can impact all aspects of life for wild turkeys, including:
Roost Locations: Topography most notably impacts where turkeys roost. Birds need strategic protection from predators, and certain terrain features offer that. “Terrain plays a big factor in roosting,” said Travis Sumner, Habitat Specialist at the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). “Terrain also plays a big role in how they travel back and forth from roosting to feeding areas. It even correlates with how they avoid predators.”
Landing Zones: Wild turkeys aren’t the most graceful of animals. Where roosting is concerned, birds need open areas to fly up from and back down to. “They like the high ground where they can see, particularly on ridgetops,” Sumner said. “This way they can see down into bottoms where they can fly down. But sometimes, when we think they’re going to fly to the bottoms, they’ll land straight under the tree on the bench.”
Food And Water Sources: Food is certainly impacted by terrain. It can dictate the variety of food that’s present, the abundance of vittles, and more. Another impacted factor is water, which turkeys use for drinking purposes, protection, and more.
Travel Routes: Remember that turkeys spend most of their time walking—not flying. Because of this, the terrain greatly impacts where they go, and how they get there. “As hunters, it plays a factor on how we set up on them,” Sumner said. “Maneuverability is big, especially when knowing how to go around and get set up on a turkey. They might try to go above and around terrain. In hill country, you’d think they’d come up the hill to you. Generally, I’ve seen them go around and get above me on top of the hill.” Nesting Cover: Hens need good cover to nest in, and to spend the first couple weeks of life with her poults. “It needs to be open, but not literally wide open,” Sumner said. “They want to feel secure. Stick to natural grasses. A lot of briars and viny stuff—they aren’t going to travel through that as much. If they’re in there, it’s hard for them to get out of that. Whereas with natural grasses, forbs, and other plants that’s fairly open, they can get out of there. I prefer [a mix of] 30 percent grasses and forbs.”
Specific Terrain Features Turkeys Love
There are certain types of terrain and topographical features that turkeys frequently use and benefit from.
“Before hunting them, learn the land,” Sumner said. “There is so much there with HuntStand. It’ll show you the topography. Before you ever even hunt, you are learning the terrain. Learn where those ridges are, which are likely to be roost sites. Learn the land so that when you’re in there maneuvering on a gobbler, you already know where he wants to head.”
You’ll commonly find birds using:
Benches: These are commonly used as roost sites, fly-up zones, landing zones, strut zones, travel routes, and more.
Bottoms: Turkeys frequently fly up to and down from the roost in bottoms. These are common feeding destinations and strut zones, too, depending on the vegetation present.
Draws: Turkeys commonly use draws as gateways between timbered areas and open fields. These make great pinch-point setups.
Edges: Much like deer, turkeys tend to remain close to edge habitat. Hens especially like these areas, and routinely nest within 30 yards of field edges. Turkeys especially love the inside field edges like the one above.
Flats: Turkeys love flat areas adjacent to hilly terrain. These are prime locations for feeding, strutting, loafing, and more.
Hills: Turkeys gravitate to hills. If the habitat is good and pressure is minimal, they spend a great portion of their time along these.
Hollows: Birds also spend part of their time down in hollows. This is especially true during higher winds, and when food sources are abundant.
Ridges: Turkeys often roost and travel along ridge lines. These offer much of what they need from security and food source standpoints.
Pinch Points: Turkeys do a lot of walking. And much like deer, they like to travel through convenient pinch points when getting from point A to B.
Points: With maybe the best example being the ends of ridge lines, points are popular roost sites, and strutting zones, for longbeards. Depending on the tree species present, these can provide ample food, too.
Swamps: Turkeys are known to roost and feed in swampy areas. Bugs are abundant, and they can easily hear predators traveling through the water.
Waterways: Flocks commonly spend the night in trees close to or over waterways, such as creeks, streams, and rivers.
“Here in the South, we see that they roost mainly along drainage areas and over water,” Sumner said. “They’ll pick the high side of these streams, ponds, and get in those higher trees. I saw that the other morning. It was a little rise in a creek bottom. They could see into the [nearby] pasture, and that’s where they flew out into.”
Specific Terrain Features Turkey Hunters Hate
Just as turkeys love certain terrain features, there are some they don’t. Or, at least, some that tend to make these birds harder to hunt. So, maybe it’s just turkey hunters who hate these things:
Barriers: Anything that separates you from the bird you see, hear, or are calling to can be a problem. Long stretches of fencerows, ravines, rivers, and other impassible-by-walking land features generally require flight for turkeys to cross over. They will do this, but birds commonly hang up once they hit such land features.
Thick Cover: Other than nesting hens, turkeys don’t like thick cover. And even then, it must be the right cover. Properties that are extremely thick might be good for deer but aren’t attractive to turkeys. “Whether it’s on the flat, or in the mountains, you want the terrain to not be too thick,” Sumner said. “A turkey can’t travel through it and feel safe from a predator. They can’t see through it. A bobcat could be laying there waiting.”
Young Timber: Both young hardwoods, and stands of young pine trees, are virtually useless to turkeys. They can’t roost in these or feed under them. And dense stem counts make it difficult to spot predators. Thus, turkeys tend to avoid such areas. “There’s an old saying that it’s so thick in there you couldn’t throw a housecat through it,” Sumner said. “Turkeys like open areas, but need a little bit of vegetation to feel secure. They want to be able to see a long distance.”